CenturyLink Earnings Call Nuggets: Second Half Outlook and Seasonality

CenturyLink Inc (NYSE:CTL) recently reported its second quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Second Half Outlook

David Barden – Bank of America: So Stewart, 90 days ago you guys came out and raised the expectations for the business, and then now are taking them back down, actually pretty much to where they started on EBITDA, but a little bit on revenues. We have this line in the sand for trending it to flattish revenues for a long time in 2014. So something over the last 90 days seems to have really dramatically changed to back away from these kind of long standing targets, and I guess obviously everyone is going to run around their hair on fire until we find out what it is. Could you kind of elaborate on what’s going on, maybe great?

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. – EVP, CFO and Assistant Secretary: David, I think the primary things affecting the latter half of the year, number one, (indiscernible) rate is down, so that contributes somewhat to the decline in revenue.

David Barden – Bank of America: Can you quantify that Stewart? How much of that change is related to that?

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. – EVP, CFO and Assistant Secretary: That’s probably about $20 million or so. The other – let me get it David, just a second, $25 million to $30 million, David.

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. – EVP, CFO and Assistant Secretary: And then, I guess, the other things affecting the last half of the year really is the savvisdirect product that we rolled out. The sales channel through the Internet has not materialized as quickly as we had hope. We’ve done a good job we think with Savvis in terms of cross-selling, the Savvis products into – and gaining momentum there in the second quarter and expecting to gain some more momentum in the third quarter, with savvisdirect probably about $20 million below what we had hope the second half of the year to be. And then our lower speed products – lower bandwidth products, probably about $30 million or so there primarily again related to a little bit faster conversion of our fiber-to-the-tower where we are disconnecting the copper circuits and seeing some of the compression little bit quicker than we had anticipated. So, those are really the three primary items that are affecting the latter half of the year…

David Barden – Bank of America: And I guess, Stewart, as a follow-up to that. As we kind of lower the EBITDA expectation and raise the CapEx expectations. It’s kind of the scenario that you don’t want to see for a dividend paying company if it kind of continues along these trends. So, if you look into the back half of the year what are the upside surprises, what are the – as you look into your next 90 days what are the downside surprises that could potentially emerge here?

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. – EVP, CFO and Assistant Secretary: Frankly, we’ve got everything built in. Again we lowered EBITDA but we lowered it basically back to where we started the first of year. And in fact we’ve got cost in the latter half of the year associated with some of the growth initiatives. And we think that – they are in fact, starting to drive revenue. We are starting to see some of that benefit and we just don’t want to back down from the standpoint of reducing the expenses associated with that. On the CapEx side, I mean, most of the incremental CapEx where we raised – effectively raised the guidance maybe $50 million or so thereby closing the gap from $2.8 billion to $3 billion, to $2.9 billion to $3 billion is more associated with the success that we are having on the customer side and the business segment, as well as new home developments or new subdivision development, which hopefully again over the long-term will translate into revenue opportunities for customers in those areas because we are putting fiber in most of those subdivisions to enable more high-bandwidth services to those areas. The third area was basically just capacity growth within the network just for normal growth and due to really our customers using video streaming more, as they are across the rest of the industry as well. So, again, not a significant there and two out of three of those really should result in increased revenue over time. Third, increase in bandwidth should help us with our being able to add new high-speed Internet customers and maintain the customers that we have.

David Barden – Bank of America: This is my last one, just given that you are chewing through the buyback so quickly. Are you willing to keep your kind of foot on the gas on that buyback or given that you are kind of moving into the second billion dollars already, are you going to slow it down?

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. – EVP, CFO and Assistant Secretary: David, I think that depends on where stock price goes. We essentially been using all of our free cash flow to repurchase shares and in fact that’s where the incremental free cash flow is going in the first six months of the year and I think it just really depends, we’ll be opportunistic in the latter half of the year and next year and we’ll – really again just depends on the stock price.

Seasonality

Brett Feldman – Deutsche Bank: I was hoping we could dig into the broadband sub losses a little bit. Just a couple of questions there. So first of all on the seasonality, could you just remind us, is the seasonal slowdown typically a function of gross ads or churn and to what extent were those similar or different than what you’ve usually seen. I’m also interested in the impact of the indirect channel or maybe just explain a little more happened there? And then the last question is of the customers that you are losing are you seeing any consistency, for example, they tend to be lower speed customers as opposed to higher speed customers?

Karen Puckett – EVP and Chief Operating Officer: This is Karen Puckett. In terms of seasonality; seasonality, as we’ve grown in with the Qwest acquisition we have more snowbird type states and so we did have a lot of a success with snowbirds in terms of getting demand. Typically that’s people going back to the Northeast or to the Midwest are college students, so that’s typical in terms and we pretty much told in last call that upcoming with seasonality, on the indirect side we have a particular partner that basically had some underperformance relative to churn rates and that caught us. In terms of the churn to lower what I would say is the footprint, if we look at our fiber-to-the-node footprint, we certainly have better churn in closed rates than we do on our ATM footprint, so that is a fact. But we now have 7.4 million households on our fiber-to-the-node product.

Brett Feldman – Deutsche Bank: So, as you think about the back half of the year, you obviously get a seasonal boost in the third quarter. Is that the principal reason why you are optimistic you’ll return to growth or are there any other things going on that should help that through the balance of the year?

Karen Puckett – EVP and Chief Operating Officer: We are pretty good on execution on high speed. We have a good track record so I am confident that we will be back positive. Obviously, the back half of the year we don’t have the seasonal situation and we always have our plans in place to know pretty much every day where the levers are. So, we are confident on the back half of the year.

A Closer Look: CenturyLink Earnings Cheat Sheet>>